Farmers adopt drought mitigation measures
Peter Matika, [email protected]
LIVESTOCK farmers in Matabeleland South have adopted a raft of drought mitigation measures, which include destocking, fodder production and other livestock supplementary feed to enhance the quality of their breeds, which is critical in boosting the national herd.
The livestock sector contributes significantly to the inclusive growth and development of the national economy.
Government is accelerating plans to build the national herd to six million by 2025 in line with the country’s agricultural growth recovery plan to meet national demand for meat and dairy products, and then to resume exports.
This requires not just breeding more cattle, but also ensuring that none are killed by disease.
The national herd stands at 5,5 million and various measures have been put in place to improve the quality of livestock including artificial insemination which involves cross-breeding with semen from selected quality bulls, and vaccination programmes.
Under the livestock recovery and growth plan, Government is concerned with the level of performance of the livestock sector hence it promulgated the blueprint to address all areas that are limiting growth.
With weather experts predicting that most parts of the country will receive normal to below-normal rainfall due to the El Nino effects, cattle farmers in Matabeleland South said they have adopted several drought mitigation measures to save their livestock.
Cattle farming is the economic mainstay in the semi-arid Matabeleland region largely characterised by low rainfall.
According to the 2023/2024 rainfall season forecast, the bulk of Matabeleland North, parts of Midlands covering Gokwe North and South districts, and parts of Matabeleland South province covering Bulilima District are expected to receive below-normal-to-normal rainfall.
Normal rainfall with a bias towards below-normal rainfall is highly likely for the remaining provinces for the sub-season October-November-December 2023.
In light of the likely drought, caused by the El Nino phenomenon, farmers in the region said they are adopting modern agricultural methods to ensure the well-being of their cattle, including producing livestock supplementary feed.
This emerged during a field day at Biano Farm in Esigodini in Umzingwane District, Matabeleland South Province.
During the event dubbed “Genetics in support of 2030” Biano Farm owner, Mr Obert Chinhamo showcased his Simmental breed and amalgamated farming methods.
The event was attended by farmers from across the country as well as agricultural students from the province.
Mr Chinhamo who exclusively breeds Simmentals said the success of livestock farming is based on yoking and keeping good genetics in animals. He owns about 300 beasts on his 80-hectare plot.
Mr Chinhamo said while the process of breeding was essential, harnessing and producing fodder was a much more reliable and sustainable method for monitoring his livestock’s health and diet, particularly in times of drought.
He said the livestock sector had great potential to record huge success if farmers focused on improving their animals through cross-breeding.
“It is good to have a lot of cattle, but they must bring value to the farmer in producing more beef or milk. This can be realised with the right breed of cattle without having too many animals,” said Mr Chinhamo.
He said genetic diversity has helped breeds to adapt to the region’s climatic conditions.
“Tailoring and applying advanced breeding technologies will lead to an improvement in the health, welfare, and productivity of the country, while also retaining their ability to survive in harsh climatic conditions,” said Mr Chinhamo.
Mr Chinhamo urged farmers to produce their own silage to lessen stock costs.
Silage is one of the technologies used to preserve fodder, especially during the dry season. It helps to preserve nutrients in stock feed.
“There are methods such as silage that can be used by any farmer in the world. This is a process where forage plants such as maize, legumes, and grasses are cut and stored in silage pits for use as animal feed,” said Mr Chinhamo.
“Since protein content decreases and fibre content increases as the crop matures, fodder should be harvested in early maturity. The feed harvested from the silage pits can last and feed livestock until the next season, whether there is below-to-normal rainfall, you can still harvest the grass or maize.”
Mr Chinhamo said the average weight of his cattle is 500kg with some of his bulls weighing about 1 000kg.
Chief Director of the Veterinary Services Department Dr Josphat Nyika said Mr Chinhamo’s project is in line with the National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1).
“There are a number of blueprints that the Government has developed which include NDS1 and NDS2 which are being crafted. There are projects that are underpinned in the agricultural sector,” he said.
“We are also anchored by the livestock recovery and growth plan. It seeks to address challenges in the livestock sector, which include nutrition, health, marketing and genetics.”
Dr Nyika said 90 percent of the country’s herd is owned by small-holder farmers whose farming practice in terms of breeding has led to the depreciation of cattle.
“Government seeks to address some of these issues by promoting the use of improved breeds in communal areas. There will be a number of projects that will see our herd upgraded,” he said.
“This year is focused on El Nino and we encourage farmers to do their own farm feed formulations such as silage making.”
Mr Nyika said under the livestock recovery plan, the Government seeks to improve cattle genetics by harvesting of semen from bulls and distributing it across provinces.
Mrs Divine Ndlukula, a cattle farmer who attended the event, urged female farmers to adopt the technique.